No, the image below is not a painting.
It’s a picture of the Torres del Paine in Chile’s national park of the same name. Granite pillars, rich green hills, and strikingly blue lakes are scattered about this 935 square mile natural wonderland. Before 1959, the park was actually a giant sheep ranch, and has yet to fully recover from almost a hundred years of environmental exploitation by ranchers.
Situated in the southern region of Chile’s Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park. This region is famous for its pristine mountains, glaciers, and extremely capricious weather. It is possible- no, probable- to experience all four seasons in one day here. But the hikes, climbs, flights, and floats are just about as good as it gets for the ideal mountain adventure.
The adventure starts before you even arrive in Patagonia- fly first to Santiago, then to Puerto Montt, and then to Punta Arenas (the closest airport to the Torres del Paine area). Then, take a 150 mile long bus ride to Puerto Natales, the closest settlement to Torres del Paine. Finally, bus another 90 miles to the gates of Torres del Paine National Park. Or you can hitchhike the way there (which is actually done commonly). Once inside the park, stay in the one luxury hotel near the entrance. Or get a little more rugged and hike the popular ‘W’ route, which takes about four days, stopping in hostel-like refugios to sleep and eat.
With at least a three day-long journey to get to the Torres del Paine (not to mention the price tag of 3+ flights, 2 bus rides and a possible hotel stay), Patagonia is still a destination for backpackers and explorers. But there are plenty of absolutely fantastic hikes to be had right here at home.
A four hour flight from the east coast and a 3 hour drive in a rental car will drop you smack in the middle of Zion National Park in Southern Utah. While its southern neighbor, the Grand Canyon, gets more hype, Zion is definitely, in my opinion (having been there myself), more beautiful. Centered around a massive canyon carved out by the Virgin River, Zion (while heavily visited) definitely feels less crowded than the Grand Canyon.
And the hikes are definitely incredible, ranging in difficulty. Take a stroll out to the tranquil Subway Pools, gaze up at Weeping Rock or Kolob Arch, and trek your way up the famous twisting Narrows. But the mother of all hikes has to be the incomparable Angels Landing. A steep hike up the rock face protruding into Big Bend, famous for its countless switchbacks and cliffside steps puts you at perhaps the best vantage point in the entire canyon.
A shorter journey, a wider range of accommodations, and easy transportation around the park make Zion National Park a real contender for any hiking enthusiast not looking for quite as much adventure as what can be found in Patagonia. Whether you choose to head south or head west, to the desert or to the mountains, the view could be worse.